HL Deb 29 May 1956 vol 197 cc552-80

3.20 p.m.

THE DUKE OF SUTHERLAND rose to move to resolve, That the immense value to the youth of this country of proper playing fields and recreational facilities should be realised especially in the great industrial areas, and that in view of the importance of this question Her Majesty's Government would be well advised to do more to develop land so generously given in certain instances by private individuals for playing fields, keeping always in mind the importance of agriculture in this country, and that the National Playing Fields Association as the recognised organisation to foster this work should be given every encouragement. The noble Duke said: My Lords, thirty-one years ago the idea of the National Playing Fields Association was born with the publication in April, 1925, of a letter, signed by several public men, in The Times newspaper pointing out the need for more playing fields throughout the country. The signatories to this letter included Lords Haig, Plumer, Baden-Powell, Lloyd-George and Oxford and Asquith, and Mr. Ramsay MacDonald and myself.

This led to the formation of a Committee to consider the whole matter, consisting of Sir Arthur Crosfield, Sir Thomas Inskip, then Solicitor-General, and General Kentish, with myself as Chairman. This Committee then invited representatives of the governing bodies of all the national sporting organisations to attend a meeting to discuss the idea of starting a national playing fields association. At the same time this provisional Committee publicised its intentions in the Press. This advance publicity caused a quick reaction. Many local authorities throughout the country immediately started funds for buying up land for the provision of local playing fields. For instance, Liverpool raised £15,000 for the purchase of 83 acres for this purpose and funds were opened by Purley Rotary Club and Kent Rural Community Council—to mention three examples. The Daily Mail also contributed £2,000 to help establish the new association.

The inaugural meeting, attended by the representatives of the sporting governing bodies, was held at the Royal United Service Institution, Whitehall, on the evening of June 11, 1925. This meeting was also attended by representatives of leading social, civic and educational organisations. At this meeting, of which I was Chairman, it was stressed that the greatest need for playing fields was to be found in industrial centres and the slums. It was pointed out that whereas at the public schools there was on an average a cricket held and football field for every thirty boys, in Southwark, for instance, there was only one acre of open space for 25,000 residents. It was unanimously agreed to form the Association. A constitution was framed on a county basis, and it was decided to hold an official opening of the Association at a public meeting at the Albert Hall.

The Albert Hall meeting, held July 9, 1925, was attended by the Duke of York, who later became King George VI. The Duke of York was elected first President and I was elected Vice-President. A very large crowd attended that meeting, including Service chiefs, schoolchildren, representatives of Scouts, Guides and other youth movements, and many prominent sportsmen. At the meeting the Duke of York said: There can be no question that one of the most important duties which we have towards the youth of our land is to provide for the boys and girls of to-day opportunity and encouragement so that they may develop 'nto happy and healthy citizens of the future…. The sight is too often witnessed of boys and girls who, unable to escape from the crowded areas of our large cities, are compelled to use as their playgrounds slums, streets and narrow lanes in the neighbourhood of their homes. The shortage of playing fields with the purer and healthier atmosphere where the youth of our country may enjoy that exercise which its physical development requires and absorb that spirit of sportsmanship which must continue to remain one of our national characteristics if we are to maintain our proud position as a nation in the world of to-morrow, amounts to little less than a tragedy…. I pointed out then that there were 3 million children in England and Wales and that for every 2,000 or 3,000 in crowded areas, there was only one acre of playing fields. In the winter of 1923–24 the L.C.C. received applications for 973 football pitches for clubs, but could provide only 205. Much the same thing applied to cricket pitches. Sir Arthur Crosfield was a great help to me at this time. In fact, he was one of the pioneers of the movement.

So much for the past, my Lords, Now let us go into the intervening years, during which meat progress has been made. I am glad to see here to-day many noble Lords who took part in the National Playing Fields Movement during those intervening years and who either acted as Chairman of the Association or took a prominent part in its work. Those years have gone by. In recent years, the National Playing Fields Association have done well. This has been chiefly due—I know that your Lordships will agree with me—to the magnificent work done for the cause by His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, our President.

Owing to the shortage of playing fields, some county authorities are now having to consider making school playing fields available to the public after school hours. This, however, is creating a further problem—the question of arranging supervision. Obviously, school playgrounds cannot be thrown open to the public without there being somebody in charge. The risk of youths forming themselves into unruly mobs and damaging school buildings, as well as the grounds themselves, would be too great a risk to take. To engage an extra staff or superintendent for this would mean, of course, an added charge on the rates, and at a time when every effort has to be made to keep the rates from going up. The lack of public playing fields is undoing much of the good done at school. During the last ten to fifteen years immense strides have been made in the way of introducing organised games into State schools. Modern schools are provided with better playgrounds and children are now taught the team spirit in their games. However, they leave school at fifteen—a most impressionable age, as your Lordships will agree—and find themselves without the means of continuing with their games. The team spirit is soon forgotten and the youths drift and hang about street corners in their leisure hours or, at the best, become spectators of sport, sometimes only on television.

There, is no doubt that the provision of playing fields would help considerably to reduce industrial unrest and discontent by giving workers something worth while to occupy their minds and bodies. Many industrial organisations run their own sports clubs, with good effect on general morale, but for many workers no provisions are made. This applies particularly to the coal miners in the Welsh valleys. Geographical conditions—mountains and slag heaps—make this a difficult area to deal with; but for the very reason that the countryside does not lend itself to such games as cricket and football, it is all the more important to provide facilities. In some of the Welsh valleys the slag heaps of worked-out mines are now being levelled to provide playgrounds, and it is important that this should be developed on a large scale. Only the other day a Welsh miner stressed in a broadcast the great need for playing fields in mining districts. Here I might recall an incident which occurred at Tonypandy. A riot had broken out in this Welsh valley and police were called in to restore order. The police, being rather sensible people, instead of making arrests, hastily cleared a piece of ground and organised a football match. The rioting stopped instantly, as all became lost in playing or watching or cheering on the match.

The great new housing drive is making playing fields more essential than ever. As more and more land is given up to houses, the open spaces in towns and cities are naturally being reduced. At the same time, the population is increasing. We have also to remember the important claims of farming and food production; but we have to remember these things in proportion. It is therefore essential for the Government to see that in all town and city plans adequate playing field sites are provided in proportion to the population. The playing fields must be evenly dispersed through the districts, so that children and adults alike enjoy the same facilities, no matter in what area they live. In planning for this it is important, so far as possible, for them to be able to approach the playing fields independently of public transport. The ideal would be to have the fields within easy approach of the housing estates.

It should not be forgotten that playing fields are needed in villages, as well as in towns. Many villages have a cricket ground or playing field, but there are many more with no such facilities. In such villages it is just as difficult, if not more so, for the people to play team games. I feel that I might well mention here the efforts of David Sheppard, the England Test cricketer, to convert "Teddy boys" in his slum London parish to better ways by getting them interested in games. I understand that one of his main problems is to raise money with which to obtain suitable ground. There is no doubt that the provision of sporting facilities helps to reduce juvenile delinquency. This has been shown in many places where playing fields have been established. If youth is given the opportunity for sport, it will be less willing to waste its time watching crime and horror films.

Since the inauguration of the National Playing Fields Association in 1925 the Association has made grants for the provision of 1,956 football pitches, 1,247 cricket pitches, 1,597 tennis courts, and 2,330 children's playgrounds. It is generally accepted that a good standard is to allow 6 acres of playing space per 1,000 of the population. This standard, however, has nowhere near been achieved. At present, the average for the country is well under 2 acres per 1,000 people. The latest survey of playing fields in England and Wales, made in 1950, revealed that, of 388 towns with a population of over 15,000, only 8 had been abled to provide more than 4 acres per 1,000, while 87 authorities had allowed under 1 acre, and 43 authorities under half an acre, per 1,000. These figures further revealed that, on average, there was one Rugby football pitch per 75,000 of population, 1 Soccer field per 6,350, 1 cricket field per 12,000, 1 grass tennis court per 9,300 and 1 running track per 410,000. In planning provision of playing space for new towns it must be realised that the population in these towns tends to be younger, on average, than that of an old town, and that the need for playing fields will therefore be greater.

One suggestion now being put forward to enable greater use to be made of existing fields is for them to be floodlit on dark evenings, so as to enable business men and women to play games, and practise athletics when they return from their work, other than at week-ends. The National Playing Fields Association is now experimenting with a new idea, originating from Copenhagen, by providing "adventure playgrounds" for children. The object is to encourage initiative and self-expression among children who may not wish to play games by providing them with tools, equipment and materials for use under the guidance of a competent adult leader. The children are allowed to do whatever they like, within the bounds of safety, law and order. Two experimental playgrounds have been opened in London and Liverpool for this purpose, but the whole scheme is still in its infancy and it is not yet possible to express any definite opinions as to its likely success or otherwise.

There is great need of funds for the National Playing Fields Association. There are no Government grants, and the work is carried out almost entirely by volunteers. The view of the Association is that the time is rapidly approaching when automation, nuclear developments, et cetera, harnessed to peace-time requirements, will mean that recreation will play a bigger part in the life of the nation than ever before. What we want, therefore, is that Her Majesty's Government and local authorities should go some way towards assisting those grounds that have been donated by private individuals and help towards the development of those grounds. There are many incidental expenses connected with getting one of these grounds into order as a playground. First, it has to be fenced, and probably ploughed up, re-seeded and rolled. Then a football and cricket ground has to be laid out, probably tennis courts made and some sort of pavilion erected for the players. This may cost quite a considerable sum which, very often, cannot all be provided by whist drives, local jumble sales and so on.

In some cases a small piece of the ground can be sold by the committee, with the agreement of the trustees, to develop the other part of the ground; but where this is not possible the local authorities, Or the Government, might, and should, help, either by means of a grant or loan. After all, the local authorities themselves have to provide playing fields when they build housing estates and schools. Therefore, in my opinion, when a private ground is donated there is no reason why they should not be able to help with its development, The National Playing Fields Association, as I have said, have very little money and can subscribe only a small grant to this cost—I believe the amount is £300.

Finally, I see the figure of the leader of this great movement calling to the youth of the nation—the pale, thwarted figures of the "Teddy boys", the juvenile delinquents, the hangers-on around public-houses who flit from pub to pub, the gangs of youths on Sunday afternoons throwing bricks through windows for want of something better to do. He calls to them and wishes to supply them with the wherewithal to enjoy a decent life. We in this House might register our support for this great crusade, especially as there are many amongst us who have already supported it. Not only that, but we might say to Her Majesty's Government: "Here is something that is really worthy of your help, something that cannot be left purely in the hands of well-wishing volunteers." I spoke and felt very strongly on this subject in 1925, and now, thirty-one years later, I feel just as strongly as I did then. I appeal to your Lordships, and to the great controllers of the Press in this country, to support this great movement, and to do what you and they can to help us carry on this work and make these young loafers into men. I beg to move.

Moved to resolve, That the immense value to the youth of this country of proper playing fields and recreational facilities should be realised especially in the great industrial areas, and that in view of the importance of this question Her Majesty's Government would be well advised to do more to develop land so generously given in certain instances by private individuals for playing fields, keeping always in mind the importance of agriculture in this country, and that the National Playing Fields Association as the recognised organisation to foster this work should be given every encouragement.—(The Duke of Sutherland)

3.39 p.m.


My Lords, I rise for a few moments to support this Motion. First of all, I think we should congratulate the National Playing Fields Association upon the progress that has been made since its formation. The figures which the noble Duke has given regarding the provision of football pitches, cricket pitches, tennis courts and the rest, indicate the great progress that has been made in their work. I feel that at the commencement of our deliberations for the next two months the time is opportune for us to consider a matter which affects the youth of the nation. We shall no doubt in the ensuing weeks have many deliberations on critical points of foreign affairs and other matters, but this afternoon possibly we can hear from the Government that they look with a kindly eye, and perhaps with an idea of financial interest, upon the sporting activities of our people.

It is also opportune to have this little discussion this afternoon, because in this coming year the sporting people of this country will be in acute international competition—in cricket, football, athletics and other ways. Some of us are wondering, when the games are over and the competitions have been completed, what exactly will be the position of Britain in the roll of honour. Naturally, we are hoping that we shall be high up; but if such be not the case there may be considerable criticism to follow as to whether or not we are concerned enough in the progress of our athletes, footballers and others. It is well known that, as a nation, we tend carefully the interests of the rising generation so far as the young people are concerned. In the schools, we look after the children's feeding, welfare, physical training, education and the rest; but it seems to me that we are rather lacking in our efforts in their adolescent stage, once they get beyond school age and leave school. I am not at all certain that we, as a nation, are as deeply concerned with their physical progress as we should be.

The noble Duke has mentioned one or two activities of the youth of the country. My own view is that these activities would not occur among the youth if their physical fitness had been a matter of national interest in the last few years, because I am certain that if a boy or a girl is interested in games he or she is not so likely to transgress in later years. I am concerned that at the present time we may be reaching what I describe as an age when we are more concerned with the films and television than we are with the physical activities of our boys and girls. I would rather see young men and women with tennis racquets under their arms than standing in a queue waiting to go into the cinema. I would rather see the young lads in groups, one of them with a football in his hand, than dodging round street corners telling everybody who conies along to, "Stick 'em up", or things of that sort. I would certainly far rather see those boys who are prone to walk the streets engaged in running and jumping.

I was interested in what the noble Duke said about the question of flood-lighting our grounds. I well remember some three or four years ago flying by night from Sydney to Canberra. The sight which always remains in my mind, and I think always will, was the vast number of floodlit tennis courts in Sydney. They were dotted here, there and everywhere. It only goes to show that if proper provision is made for the sporting activities of boys and girls they will take advantage of it. Nobody can gainsay the fact that the Australians, in addition to their cricketers, have turned out some very fine tennis players indeed.

The noble Duke made mention of the provision of playing grounds for our new schools. I think we can take pride in the well-laid-out and ample area of playing grounds attached to new schools, but I am not at all certain that we are concerned as much as we should be with the playing fields of the old schools. Some of the old schools are increasing the number of boys and girls who attend, but the playing fields which were ample, say, fifty years ago, when numbers were small, are not now sufficient to cope with the additional pupils attending. Possibly the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, when he replies, can make some mention as to whether or not the educational authorities of this country have a duty to provide sufficient playing accommodation for old schools under their jurisdiction, as well as the new schools which are built.

I am told—and it was borne out by what the noble Duke said in the interesting figures which he gave to the House—that there is a considerable shortage of cinder tracks in this country. The figure is one for 410,000 of the population. It is certain, I think, that if we are to excel in running and athletics in the future, the cinder track must play an important part in the formation of successful athletes. I hope, therefore, that, whatever has been provided in the past by the National Playing Fields Association or by anybody else, the question of cinder tracks will not be overlooked.

I rose this afternoon only to express some concern as to whether or not we were progressing in this direction as fat as we should, and I am particularly hopeful that whatever phase of life this generation is going through at the present time, we shall be able, by our efforts in this age, to see to it that in the age which follows us the boys and girls will have what is necessary in the way of playing fields for their physical improvement and fitness. We are in competition in many ways with other countries in other walks of life, but we have always considered that Britain as a sporting community and, as an athletic community, has played no small part in fashioning the games of the world. We have a position to uphold and, whatever may be done by voluntary effort, I hope that the Government of Britain will take a kindly leaning towards those efforts and help in whatever way they can.

3.51 p.m.


My Lords, I rise only for a few minutes to give my wholehearted support to this Motion, which goes to the very root of our national existence. I have followed the great activities of the National Playing Fields Association for a number of years, mainly because my father was Chairman of the Scottish branch for fourteen years. What is wanted today more than anything else is exemplary citizenship and good teamwork, as without the co-operation of loyal citizens no Government can be really effective. How many of us can say that we are really worthy citizens, doing the things that should be done and looking for opportunities to do good turns by safeguarding the citizens of this country? I am afraid that we do not all attain this great ideal which is one of the fundamentals of life. We in this country rightly love our sport and games, from which we derive so much benefit. Perhaps I may be permitted to say that one of the reasons why the work of your Lordships' House is so virile, in spite of the fact that a number of noble Lords have passed their half century in years, is that your Lordships have had the opportunity to play games. It is incumbent upon us as a nation to ensure that all children and young people have the opportunity to play games; and for this, playing fields must be provided.

This is now the cricket season. How many of us remember that game when one side needing fifty runs to win with nine wickets down, somehow, by sheer determination, pulled it off? It was that same national characteristic that gave us that repellent strength to overcome the seemingly impossible at the time of Dunkirk. I am sure we all deplore seeing young people loafing about in the towns and in the countryside during their leisure hours and becoming easy prey for the many evils of this world, especially juvenile delinquency, which is a very real problem to-day. Akin to this is the great difficulty of children using the treacherous roads for playing games. The easiest way of overcoming this great evil is to provide playing fields, so that the children can not only enjoy themselves but also play healthy games. We must not forget that sport and games provide part of a citizen's education. The class-room gives the academic training, but there are many lessons still to be learnt on the playing field, such as team spirit, giving and taking knocks without malice, fair play, self-control, courage and unselfishness. All these deep-rooted qualities go to form the foundation of a good citizen. It is up to as to develop the team spirit. If we all pull together there are few difficulties, however formidable they may seem, that cannot be overcome. In the team each member plays for the good of the side. Is it too much to hope that one day the nations will pull together for the well-being of the world?

I realise that a situation such as this cannot be developed overnight, but I suggest that we as a nation should set the example by providing playing fields so that at least our young people have the opportunity to acquire the team spirit. I do not suggest that large and pretentious playing fields are necessary. What we want is a large number of small playing fields which the people themselves can develop according to their own enthusiasm. The large football ground holding thousands of crowded spectators is not the aim of the National Playing Fields Association: they want something so that all young people can become players of games and not merely spectators. Playing fields are wanted not only in the towns where other forms of wholesome recreation are few and far between, but also in the countryside, which is tending to become partly depopulated be- cause, by comparison with the towns, it has not the same facilities and amenities.

The President of the National Playing Fields Association, His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, has set this nation the highest example by throwing wholeheartedly into the movement his very enthusiastic and vital personality which we all admire so much. It is up to every one of us, Her Majesty's Government included, to do everything possible to encourage the growth of playing fields so that the young people have the opportunity to play games and grow up into good citizens. I know there are many calls of varying degrees of importance made on the Treasury and only Her Majesty's Government can decide how far out the arm of help should be stretched. I would, however, remind Her Majesty's Government that, by investing in playing fields, we as a nation should rightly expect the highest reward in the form of good citizens from the young people of to-day, who will be the leaders of to-morrow and on whom hangs the future not only of this country but probably of the world.

3.59 p.m.


My Lords, I do not want to say very much, but I must congratulate heartily the noble Duke on introducing this particular subject. I want to bring into perspective the very great changes that have taken place since the earlier years of this century. The noble Duke is no doubt aware of a good many of them. In London, for example, in the earlier part of this century, a large number of children attending school were improperly fed. They did not get enough food; they were literally half-starving. I will not go through all the reasons why, but they are now, of course, well fed, and that makes a very great difference. I may say that at the time when the children in London and in other cities were very underfed, it was said by many people who did not take the trouble to understand the situation and did not know the conditions of the children's homes or what was the employment of their parents, that the parents ought to look after them; not realising that in the economic circumstances at that time the parents had no opportunity of doing anything but remaining at a dead level. There was serious poverty and great malnutrition.

I say this because, as a matter of fact, I was myself the person who started school feeding. It was not done before I started my experiment in school feeding, which was designed to show that if children were properly fed they would benefit in health, vigour, vitality and intelligence. It seems incredible that it should have been necessary to make an experiment of school feeding, which was carried out under the auspices of the London County Council, of which at that time I was a school medical officer. It seems incredible to us, speaking in this great Chamber, that it was possible for some people to think that it was entirely the fault of the parents—that it was due to their neglect. It was nothing of the sort. Since that time children have been progressively better fed, and now the average standard of nutrition is a good one, although it has not yet reached the highest level.

The provision of playing fields and of recreation for children is one of the most important aspects of this improvement in the life of a child. I am extremely glad that the noble Duke has brought this matter forward to-day. It is only a part of a whole series of social changes that have taken place since the beginning of this century—some of them recently, some of them at a more distant date. It is extremely important that these conditions should continue to improve. I think that we can congratulate ourselves that we have this afternoon heard the noble Duke, obviously speaking from his heart of the great work done by the Association with which he is so closely connected. I congratulate him and all those who are associated with him. I hope that every kind of help that can be given to the organisation will be given, because nothing can be better than the provision of proper playing fields for children all over the United Kingdom. Associated with the other changes that have taken place in the conditions appertaining to children, the improvement of the general economic conditions of their parents and the improvement of their living standards, we now have the opportunity of providing a good and fine life for the whole of the population and not only for just a few of the privileged classes, as was once the case.

4.4 p.m.


My Lords, I had not intended to intervene in this debate, but I feel so strongly in favour of the Resolution that I should like to say just a few words. I wonder whether the outfields of aerodromes have been fully considered for possible use as playing fields. A great portion of a large aerodrome is out of wind for perhaps days at a time, and there is a large area of ground which is already level: the grass is mown and forms an ideal site for a playing field. If the necessary arrangements could be made between the Services and other organisations, or perhaps nationalised industries, there is there a great area of land which might be made to serve two purposes. One of the great difficulties with the playing field problem is, of course, rival interests in regard to the available land, and it occurs to me that there is a possibility that this available land might be further exploited with a view to a dual use. When I was in Swaziland we had only one area of land. We used the edge of that land as a golf course; we landed our aircraft in the middle, and we played cricket, football and tennis on the outer wind section. If that could be done in a small way in Swaziland, it seems to me that it might be possible for the same idea to be adopted and elaborated upon in this country.

4.6 p.m.


My Lords, I welcome this debate to-day, and we should all be most grateful to the noble Duke who introduced the debate and, in so doing, drew the attention of the House and the country to this important problem. I, for one, am glad to be associated with this great movement which was founded thirty-one years ago with the noble Duke as one of the pioneers and founders. I listened with great interest to his speech this afternoon, to his survey of the past and the way he brought the matter right up to date. The last words of his Resolution are: that the National Playing Fields Association, as the recognised organisation to foster this work, should be given every encouragement. I can think of no greater encouragement than this debate. It encourages the Association to harder work. We pride ourselves on being thirty years young, rather than thirty years old.

I should like to thank other noble Lords who have spoken in this debate—Lord Wise, for his contribution; Lord Forbes (and, in passing, I would pay tribute to the great work that has been done in Scotland by the Association and by Lord Forbes and his family); and also Lord Haden-Guest. With regard to what was said by the noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven, about the use of outfields of aerodromes, of course there is a good deal of vacant space, and to a certain extent it is used, I think, by R.A.F. personnel for playing games. But I will see that this matter is looked into. At first glance, it seems to me that airfields are usually placed a good way away from centres of population, and the distances may be too great for people to go to play their games. In some cases, however, it may be appropriate. But, as I said, we shall certainly take note of that.

My Lords, I should like to pay a sincere tribute to all those who, like the noble Duke, have, over the years, given land for use as playing fields. It has meant a great deal to local populations, both great and small; and in the expansion of our great towns and cities we can still see how whole parks have been given and preserved for recreational facilities. The noble Duke spoke of the necessary expenditure on the grounds. What he said is, of course, quite true. Capital expenditure is often required to make the land suitable for games, especially for team games; and money is required either from the National Playing Fields Association or by way of local or ministerial grants. May I also pay a great tribute to those people who, through the years, have contributed and have made it possible for this Associaticn to distribute over £1 million towards the development and acquisition of the grounds which the noble Duke mentioned.

The noble Duke also referred to those who have turned slag heaps into playing fields. I have seen quite a number of such schemes, and it really is a magnificent work, usually clone voluntarily. I have seen it done in Cornwall, where they have carved out places in the china clay pits and opened tennis courts and similar facilities. These are schemes which never attract a great deal of publicity, but they are going on, and they show the great eagerness in local communities for outdoor recreation. There are many other cases where, without much publicity, funds are being donated towards these ends. I know of one, in London, which will also be known to the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft—the West Ham Boys' Club. From their own funds they obtained a piece of land and made it into their own running track without going to Government or other sources for a grant. There is a great deal going on, quite quietly, in that way, and it is most commendable.

The Association (perhaps your Lordships will allow me to use that term, as its title is a long one) feel that to an extent they are stewards of the land that has been left to them by donors. We own quite a lot of land and we feel that we are stewards for the benefit of people who want to play on it. We certainly feel that we are trustees or stewards of the funds so generously given in a voluntary way. Some noble Lords may have attended their local cinema lately and seen a playing fields' film, when an opportunity was given to them to contribute. I want to welcome the work already done by Her Majesty's Government to encourage the provision of recreation facilities. Noble Lords will recall that grants given by the Ministry of Education were restarted some two years ago, after being curtailed for two years because of financial stringency. We were extremely grateful for the re-establishment of those grants because we had "held the fort" for two years, though we were quite proud that we were able to do some of the Government's work. However, those grants having been re-started, I very much hope that no "squeeze" will put them back and again leave us "holding the baby."

I was most grateful when Her Majesty's Government recently accepted in a Bill an Amendment of mine which already has been of great assistance in the rating of playing fields. Going further back, the Physical Training and Recreation Act, 1937, and the Education Act, 1944, have both played a very great part in the tremendous increase of facilities throughout the country, simply because they made it possible for local authorities and the Ministry of Education to assist in these schemes. Though the noble Duke, the Duke of Sutherland, did not mention it in his speech, I am sure that what was in his mind was the fact that it was the leadership given to the movement by the Association which led to the provisions, in the two Acts that I have mentioned, for public funds to be used for this purpose. We have extremely good relations with the Ministry of Education and local authorities in the work we try to do, working, as it were, as a team; but what work is done, or is not done, is very largely a matter for the local authorities themselves. It all depends on the kind of priority local authorities give to the provision of facilities, and, for example, the importance attached to the provision of playgrounds to keep children off the streets. I need not tell your Lordships that there is an immense field of activity for providing these playgrounds.

Again, it all depends how much importance the individual local authorities give to the encouragement of healthy recreational activities. Noble Lords have already said how deplorable it is that these gangs of which we hear should get together. Where it happens it is up to local authorities to take every conceivable action to try to turn those gangs into teams who can play games. When they see that happening, they ought to put the provision of recreational facilities right up at the top of the list, to try to prevent these gangs from developing. The provision of these facilities has, to a certain extent. to go hand in hand with the housing and other necessities of communities.

There is another matter, which has already been mentioned but on which I see no harm in saying a further word. A great deal depends on how much importance is given to the encouragement of playing games after school. The Ministry and local education authorities have been extremely successful in increasing the number of games played in schools, not only by the provision of facilities but by arranging for the encouragement of masters and mistresses in coaching. The result is, however, that many more boys and girls are leaving school with a sense of teamship and ready to play games. But where can they play, once they have left school? That is the great problem to which a great deal more thought should be given, because when the demand has been created, by teaching them to play games, a worse state is created by not allowing them to do so when they have left school. I realise that at the moment, with the credit squeeze on, many of these things have to take second, or even third, place; but I do make a plea to local authorities not just to forget about this problem but to keep it well in mind. The noble Duke, in his speech, spoke of the use of school fields in this connection. The Association have that matter very much in mind, but we realise that it is not something which the Ministry of Education can decide. It is, rightly, left to local education authorities to decide whether or not school fields can be used in that way. The situation is a little difficult. While one may say it is a good thing, if a director of education feels that it is not such a good thing, or that supervision is impossible, or that if grounds are used too frequently there will be no turf left on which to play, then the question is: to play or not to play?

There are many who have the opportunity for playing but who do not take it. That magnificent programme "Active Leisure," seen on television, so admirably given by His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh, showed that these people who have opportunities ought to be encouraged to seize them. There are, of course, many people who do not have the opportunity and who cannot play, though they would like to. It is to these that we try to give our full attention and assistance. May I just say a few words about how all this is being tackled. I have already said that it is a team operation, and in it the Minister of Education, the local authorities and ourselves are concerned. I opened a playing field on Saturday, up in, Nottinghamshire, and it was delightful to see the culmination of just that sort of work. It had taken a considerable time to get that field as it should be. But there it was, ready to play on; and the Central Council of Physical Recreation had helped with cricket coaches, thereby demonstrating how they can assist in promoting better playing on the facilities which we try to provide.

One correction, I should like, if I may, to make on a point which the noble Duke mentioned. He stated that he understood the maximum grant was £300. As a matter of fact, we were able a short while ago to raise that to £500 per scheme. We endeavour to make grants in every direction, to schemes large and small. Of course, in the case of large schemes at big centres, our contribution is only, so to speak, a drop in the ocean. But we can give a great deal of technical aid and advice in such matters as drainage, lay- out and so forth. For all that, there remains a great deal to be done. I think your Lordships are well aware of the need, and I am sure we should welcome further encouragement from Her Majesty's Government. I do not think, however, that we should really welcome any direct assistance from them. We are quite content to see that assistance going direct to the schemes. We would rather preserve our independence and carry on with voluntary funds, I do not think that the noble Duke really had that in mind when he was speaking.

Finally, it may be of interest to your Lordships to know that not only is this work of the Association going from strength to strength in this country but it is being copied in many parts of the Commonwealth—including Malta, Kenna and Pakistan. Yesterday I even had a letter from Canada, asking for information as to how this work was run and whether vie could assist in setting it on foot out there. And interest is also active in the United States of America. In the autumn I shall have art opportunity of addressing in Philadelphia the organisation there which is the opposite number of our Association, the National Recreation Association of America. So what the noble Duke founded has gone a very long way. I apologise to your Lordships for having spoken at such length. I repeat that I welcome this debate, and the encouragement given to us to work harder than ever in this cause.

4.24 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that I shall be forgiven for doing something which is almost unforgivable: that is, taking part in a debate without having heard all the speeches. My excuse is that I feel very keenly about this matter of playing fields; and I hope that I have been able, during my career, to be of some use in that direction. Now, I want particularly to make a suggestion to the Association. The noble Duke introducing the subject—and we are indeed greatly obliged to him for doing so—struck a sympathetic chord in my memory when he referred to Southwark. I represented Southwark on the London County Council for twenty-one years. When the noble Duke told us that there was only one acre of playing fields in Southwark, I must confess that I wondered where it was. I had never been able to discover anything of that nature in Southwark, except a disused burial ground which was being used, I think, with doubtful legality, because I doubt whether the normal procedure had been carried out for making use of such a place. Of course, Southwark is typical of a number of areas throughout the country, and the noble Duke is right when he says that it is in just those areas where there is no land available and the people are living in conditions of intense congestion that these playing fields are most necessary.

One of the ways in which it is hoped to deal with congested areas is eventually to "de-congest" them, and in development plans, such as the County of London Plan, certain areas have been designated as public open spaces or playing fields, against the time when the land will become available. That may be ten years or it may be twenty years, but the condition of the properties standing on the areas in question is very often such that they have not a very long life ahead of them, and in the development plans preparations are made for the time when those properties will be pulled down and the land can then be used for such purposes as playing fields.

The suggestion I should like to make to the Association is this. They have to recognise that in such areas as those the noble Duke has mentioned and as I know, there may not be any possibility of providing playing fields at the present time. I think the Association can play a valuable part in considering the development plans of the local authorities and, possibly, making suggestions to them, conferring with them, and ensuring that the local authorities themselves are aware of the need eventually to provide playing fields in due course as land becomes available. May I take London as an example? It has become recognised that what is needed is a certain number of acres of land per thousand of the population. For the moment I have forgotten the figure.


Perhaps I may assist the noble Lord. It is six acres per thousand of the population.


I am obliged to the noble Lord. That figure which he has mentioned was regarded as the ideal, but the London County Council had to come down to four acres per thousand of the population because they recognised that London was so much below the ideal standard that it would be hopeless to try to secure six acres. Therefore they are making it four acres. At the moment, the amount of land available averages about two acres per thousand of the population. In some parts of London like Southwark there is practically no land available. Other areas exceed their quota. That is a sort of yardstick. I believe that even to-day when some local authorities are preparing their development plans, they are not providing as much as would be obtainable for these purposes, and I should like to see the National Playing Fields Association—if it is possible for them to do so—taking an interest in these development plans, possibly even criticising them or, it might be, turning up at inquiries. I must say, though, that I doubt whether it would be necessary for them to be represented at public inquiries, because they could no doubt get what they wanted by consultation and discussions beforehand. I think if they had consultations and discussions they would be performing a useful piece of work, and if it was ever necessary for them to attend a public inquiry they would be carrying out a valuable piece of education.

4.30 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Duke, as we all know, is a regular attendant in your Lordships' House. He is not, unfortunately, a regular speaker. I think it is fortunate, therefore, that one of his rare and welcome interventions should be on a subject about which he is such an expert and one which he has made singularly his own. The number of noble Lords who have intervened in this debate without having given any previous notice of their intention is some indication, I think, of the interest which the debate and the able speech of the noble Duke have aroused.

If I can pay him back in his own coin, I should like to tell him that the Government are very ready to accept his Resolution. He will not mind if I put in a proviso here, a reservation there and a caveat or two. I will, however, willingly accept the general spirit in which he proposed the Resolution, as I expect your Lordships hope me to do. I think, for instance, that he has not given all the credit that might have been given to the Government's actions after 1954. I will have a word or two more to say about that later. The noble Lord, Lord Wise., asked whether the Government would look upon this problem with a kindly eye. Let me assure the noble Lord that we continue to do so, and with more than a kindly eye—with a kindly purse, which is, sometimes more important. I do not want to detract in any way from the magnificent work done by the National Playing Fields Association (hereinafter to be referred to as the Association) but I was happy to hear their Chairman, my noble friend, Lord Luke, acknowledge that the Government have also a part to play and are doing their best to play it.

Let me remind your Lordships how we are all concerned in this matter, as taxpayers, as ratepayers and as charitably-minded citizens. Let me remind your Lordships of the division of responsibilities and effort. First, there are the Education Acts. Local education authorities provide playing fields and playgrounds for schools and can also provide them for community centres and so on. A grant attaches from the Exchequer, and since 1954 that no longer applies to new schools only. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Wise, that help can be made available to old schools which have not hitherto had recreational facilities. Most of the new schools going up nowadays normally provide for playing fields in their plans; I know of few that have not.

Then we come to the Physical Training and Recreation Act, 1937, under which local authorities may make similar provisions for the adult population rather than for the child population. Again, under this Act, local authorities can help in maintaining existing fields which they themselves had not originally acquired—I am sure that the noble Duke will be pleased to know that. In addition, invaluable work has been done by voluntary bodies and charities who do not seek any Slate aid. Some, of course, do obtain Government grant, but there are many who do not seek it. I should like to echo the words of my noble friend, Lord Luke, on this matter. We are particularly anxious not to trespass on ground which is the proper preserve of charities or voluntary bodies who have been doing such excellent work and who will go on doing that work. I think that that work would suffer if the Government tried to interfere or contribute.

I am grateful to my noble friend, Lord Luke, for referring to the West Ham Boys and Amateur Boxing Club of which I have been a Vice-President for many years. We succeeded in laying down a running track, opened by Mr. Christopher Chataway a few months ago, and for which we asked not a penny from ratepayer or taxpayer but paid for it entirely out of our own pockets. Many organisations do that, and, indeed, there is no reason why they should not. They do not want to go borrowing the taxpayers' and ratepayers' money when it is not required or where it really would not be welcomed. I think I should add that the rate of Treasury grant to voluntary bodies, if assistance is required, is slightly more favourable than that to local authorities, but this is a capital grant and not for maintenance. Your Lordships will be Interested to know that a higher rate of grant is offered if the work is carried out by voluntary labour.

Several noble Lords have deprecated what might be called the "gladiator spirit" in sport—in particular, the noble Lord, Lord Forbes, and I should like to endorse what he said. The Government urgently wish to encourage the development of facilities for active sports—that is, participation in sports and not just for watching. I think it is rather disturbing, however accurate it may be, to know that on every Saturday afternoon, for every person in this country taking an active part in some sports, 26,000 to 30,000 are simply watching. The sooner we can get those figures into reverse, the better, We are doing what we can within the limits of the financial restrictions with which your Lordships are only too painfully familiar. The grants under the 1937 Act, to which I have been referring, had a pretty bleak time between the years 1951 and 1955, but at the end of 1954 the restrictions were lifted. Last year, for the first time, we saw the restrictions off, with the result—and this is something for which the Government may properly take pride—that last year we spent on playing fields in Great Britain £142,000, compared with the sum of £6,000 spent in the previous year. I think that is some- thing for which the Government are entitled to ask for congratulation—bearing in mind that your Lordships, and not the Government, are in the end paying for this expenditure!

I must remind your Lordships that the thing called "the credit squeeze" is still with us, and I cannot promise that this figure will be maintained in the year to come. It is doubly important that the voluntary work should continue. We cannot shift the whole burden on to the taxpayer and ratepayer. There are no rigid rules for assessing the grants to which I have referred. We have to take into account the playing fields already available in the area in relation to the population. For instance, we do not want to make a grant for tennis courts when there are already municipal courts round the corner. We must also take into account the relationship of costs to the facilities provided.

Several noble Lords referred to conditions in Wales. Unfortunately, knocking down mountains and turning them into football pitches is an extremely expensive affair, and we have not been able to support as many of those schemes as we should have liked to do. I would particularly emphasise composite schemes providing for a variety of sports in one field. Unfortunately, one of the most popular requirements is swimming baths, which is the most expensive form of snort we can find. Recently we have had to turn down a scheme in the Manchester area for a swimming bath which was to have cost almost £250,000. That was unfortunate, but there it is.

To sum up: during the financial year 1955–56, the Government approved schemes for 73 playing fields and 55 pavilions, quite apart from the purely voluntary and unaided schemes. I think that that is a very real achievement. The general restrictions on public borrowing announced recently by the Government will mean, I am afraid, that some local authorities will have to wait for a time before they can carry out all their proprosals, but these schemes take some time to prepare and there is no reason why authorities cannot carry on with the preliminary work and be ready to start if and when they get their loan.


My Lords, the noble Lord mentioned the figure of 73 playing fields provided by the Government last year. Were they in addition to school playing fields?


These are separate from school playing fields: I am not talking about schools at all under this heading.

The noble Duke raised the question of agricultural land and that is an old and difficult problem. There is too little good land in this country, and too many people want it; but I think that the planning authorities appreciate that point and try to come to a reasonable compromise whenever they can. The noble Viscount, Lord Stonehaven, mentioned aerodromes: I think he was answered by the noble Lord, Lord Luke, who pointed out that the difficulty is that aerodromes are often too far away from where people live. I think that is a point which would hardly win the agreement of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, if he happened to be in your Lordships' House at this moment.

I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, emphasise the need for planning authorities to keep their eyes open in future when development plans are under examination. I think that they do, but it will do no harm to have this point brought to their notice. The grants under the 1937 Act, about which I am now speaking, form only a small part of the expenditure from public funds on physical education. I endorse what has been said by several noble Lords, that the foundation of physical fitness must be laid in the schools. Most of our postwar schools have playing fields, and some of them are excellent; and would, I feel sure, meet with the approval of the noble Lord, Lord Haden-Guest, who made a telling speech on this particular point. I know that, within the financial limitations which have to be imposed upon them, local authorities fully appreciate this point.

Several noble Lords have mentioned the point raised in the actual wording of the Resolution—namely, the question of juvenile delinquency. I am sure that we all readily agree that sport is a valuable antidote to juvenile delinquency. The lack of facilities in crowded areas must have contributed to minor crime. However, I do not think we should overstate the case. I would not assume that if we had double the number of playing fields to-morrow, we should have half the amount of juvenile delinquency; but the lack of opportunities for disciplined play, team spirit and good sportsmanship, as my noble friend Lord Forbes pointed out in his cricket analogy, must have some bearing in the matter. I was not entirely happy about the noble Lord's cricket analogy. If he were my captain and sent me in with one wicket to fall and fifty runs still to be scored, it would not be the Dunkirk spirit that I should be thinking of: it would be the Stalingrad or Sedan spirit.

I am happy to inform your Lordships that the figures of juvenile delinquency, which reached an appalling peak in 1951 (they were the highest we have ever had), have since been steadily falling. They are still a good deal higher than they were before the war, but they are a good deal lower than they were in 1951. We can hope that there may be some link of cause and effect between the increase in playing fields and the decrease in juvenile delinquency. In 1949, your Lordships may remember, the Government urged all local authorities to undertake campaigns to try to stern this rising tide of juvenile delinquency; and nearly all the local committees who inquired into it stressed the need for, and the importance of, the recreational facilities which we have been discussing this afternoon. I have always been a little suspicious of the idea that the Battle of Waterloo was actually won on the playing fields of Eton, and I would not go so far as to say that the battle of juvenile delinquency can be won on the playing fields of our new secondary schools. But there is there a contribution which has done some good, and we must continue to foster it.

There are two other small points which have not been touched upon in the debate and which may be of some interest to your Lordships, for they seem to bear on the matter we are discussing. The first is the question of attendance centres. Your Lordships may remember that Parliament inserted into the Criminal Justice Act, 1948, a provision empowering my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to provide attendance centres at which young people might be ordered by a court to attend. They have to attend for up to twelve hours in all, and for not more than three hours on one day; and the programme is so arranged that it prevents interference with their education or with their employment. The aim of that scheme of instruction and occupation is to educate boys who have strayed from the "strait and narrow" in the proper use of their leisure. I had not realised how important that is until, at a recent inspection at one of these schools, we asked one lad to mite an essay on what he normally did with his leisure time. He waited for ten minutes before putting pen to paper, and then he wrote "Nothing"—and he had to ask us how to spell "nothing" before he could write it. There are far too many boys with that outlook, and the object of these attendance centres is to assist such youths. I believe that they are laying the foundation for an interest in organised games. We have, so far, thirty-three attendance centres for boys between the ages of twelve and seventeen. It is a fairly firm discipline, but I think the scheme is proving successful. Some cynics, when we first set up this scheme, said that we were merely teaching potential burglars to be more athletic. That has not proved to be the case, and it is an experiment that we can well continue.

Secondly, I should like to say a word about approved schools. In these approved schools, far which my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is responsible to Parliament, the value of playing fields and recreational facilities has been fully recognised, and I am glad to say that we have had some notable athletic successes. I had the pleasure yesterday at the Home Office sports on the Civil Service ground at Chiswick, of watching some of the teams from the approved schools and seeing what a fine show they put up. We feel it is right that in the work of the approved schools an increasing amount of attention should be paid to playing fields and recreational facilities.

I have left to the end the National Playing Fields Association. That was deliberate, because it needs no more words from me to sing its praises and to say how much Her Majesty's Government welcome its work, and how grateful they are to it and for what it has done, under the brilliant presidency of H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh and the most able, efficient and energetic chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Luke. They have been extremely successful in raising funds to assist clubs and local authorities. in the development of playing fields. The Association greatly helps the Government in administering grants. Its surveys are a valuable guide to policy, particularly that made in 1951 of the area of public playing fields in some of the larger municipal authorities.

But I conclude by saying that this good work cannot be left to any one body: it must be shared by us all—by those who subscribe to the major voluntary authorities like the National Playing Fields Association, and by those of us who like to give a little time to club work, and who wish to have no subscriptions from local authorities but prefer to stand on our own feet and pay our own way. It also rests greatly on the local authorities, and finally, of course, it rests on the Government. All, I can asure your Lordships, are doing their best and are fully aware of the importance of the work with which they are charged. I only hope that this debate will encourage us all to redouble our efforts. In answering for the Government, I have assured your Lordships of our earnestness in this matter; of our intention to do more in the future, provided, of course, that we have the money; and of our pride in what we have been able to do, in a small way, in the past. Last of all, we welcome that single charitable individual, of which the noble Duke, the Duke of Sutherland, is such a notable example, and we hope that this debate will encourage more people to follow his example and, if possible, imitate his generosity. I have much pleasure in accepting the Resolution.

4.48 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to Her Majesty's Government for accepting my Resolution, and that leaves little more to be said. We hope that this debate will do a lot of good towards helping the National Playing Fields Association to assist the youth of the country to develop their athletic possibilities. It might help us, too, in the Olympic Games for future years, if not for this year and, indirectly, help the whole nation in its physical development and recreation.

On Question, Resolution agreed to.